After arriving in Hakone the day before, it was time to do some sightseeing on day 2!
Hakone 箱根 is in Kanagawa prefecture 神奈川県, and is basically a day trip away from Tokyo. If your trip takes you to Tokyo and you have some extra time, I recommend spending time in the more rural area of Kanagawa. It can get you out of the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, and you can enjoy some natural beauty. In the summer, Kanagawa tends to be a little cooler than Tokyo. Hot springs or onsen are the major attraction in Hakone, and this is where my fiancé and I chose to spend our 3-day and 2-night honeymoon (even though it was before the actual wedding).
We scheduled our breakfast at ryokan Hotel Kajikaso early so that we could get an early start to the day. The nice thing about having the rotemburo attached to the room is that you can take a quick dip in the onsen before leaving without having to trek all the way to the public baths. I’m a complete geology nerd, so even though it was winter and not really the best time for seeing all of Hakone’s geological (AKA outdoor) attractions, I wanted to visit the geological sites enough that I was willing to brave the chilly morning and the high winds. Hakone is a UNESCO geopark, with the primary emphasis on the volcanic activity. There was no snowfall during the time I was there, but the winds were strong and cold and pretty uncomfortable. My fiance worried about me getting a cold, so instead of taking the Hakone sightseeing train, we took the car. The car also offers more freedom, but the train would be a better sightseeing choice in good weather.
Lake Ashi or Ashinoko is a volcanic caldera lake formed 3000 years ago by the latest eruption of Mt. Hakone. Mt. Fuji is often visible from the shore of the lake, so I dragged poor Aki out in the early morning hours to see if I could get a shot of the volcano. Unfortunately, the clouds had already moved in by the time we got there so Mt. Fuji was not visible. It’s ideal to set up very early in the morning, before the clouds move in, to get a shot of Mt. Fuji at most seasons. The weather is very changeable, but the winter has the best views due to the clear air. In the summer, the air gets hazy and the view of Mt Fuji is less clear.
There is a large, decorative boat that takes you around the lake for a fee, but the winds were too intense and the water was too choppy for the boat to safely depart when we were there. I’m not very fond of boats, and so I wasn’t too disappointed. I would have liked to take a photo of the boat sailing around, however!
Lake Ashi is a great place to visit in the summer, but in the winter it is cold and the chance to ride on the boat around the lake is dependent on the weather. My fiance waited in the boat station and in the car while I ran around snapping photos. The wind chilled our faces and tried to blow us away, so it was not the most fun. I got some nice photos of the Hakone Shrine across the way and icicles on the dock, so I was happy enough despite the difficulties. Only a few other tourists were out braving the lakeshore, and since it was very far away from peak tourist season not many things were open.
Hakone Shrine or Hakone Jinja is visible from the boat dock of Lake Ashi, and if you just go around to the northeast along the shore of the lake, you can get to the shrine fairly quickly (5 minutes by foot, much less by car). Hakone Shrine is at the foot of Mt. Hakone, and the lakeside torii (gate to a Japanese Shinto shrine) is actually in the waters of Lake Ashi.
The shrine buildings are concealed within the forested area, but there are two large torii over the streets of Moto-Hakone in addition to the one in the waters of the lake. A path leads from the torii at the entrance, up a stairway and into the main compound of the shrine. From there, an even larger stairway goes up to the main shrine.
The shrine is atop the highest stairway and is surrounded by a dense forest of trees. At most points you can no longer see the lake due to the trees. It’s a very lovely shrine with a feeling of isolation due to the forest. An elderly gentleman engaged me in conversation about the history of the shrine in English before I set out on the largest stairway. Most Japanese people don’t strike up random conversations, but as a foreigner travelling in Japan you may be approached by people who want to speak English with you or to help you out, whether or not you are in need of help!
Our next stop was Owakudani 大涌谷, one of the more impressive volcanic features in the Hakone Geopark! Stay tuned for the next post, with more photos!
Have you been to Hakone Shrine? How about other famous shrines? What other places in Kanagawa prefecture have you been to? Let me know in the comments!